Big Mason Avenue Project Raises Parking Concerns

Developer Patrick Hand supplied this sketch of one of the buildings he proposes to construct on the site of the old Be-Lo grocery.

Developer Patrick Hand supplied this sketch of one of the buildings he proposes to construct on the site of the old Be-Lo grocery.

Cape Charles Wave

March 31, 2014

Local real estate developer Patrick Hand outlined to Cape Charles Town Council last Thursday his plans to demolish the vacant grocery store building on Mason Avenue and replace it with two new buildings with stores on the ground floors and condos above. But while a prominent eyesore would disappear, so would more than 100 public parking spaces.

Hand envisions an extension of Strawberry Street running through the middle of where the 1950s-era grocery store building is located, with a new structure flanking each side of the street. He suggested that the town buy the property from him needed for the extension and turn it into a pedestrian mall.

The proposed buildings would be constructed and occupied in phases, beginning with a three-story structure across the street from the Wilson Building on the corner of Mason and Strawberry. A second building two to four stories high would be built later, east of the first building. The first building would contain 28 units, five of them ground-floor commercial storefronts and the rest mostly one-bedroom condo apartments. Some corner units would have two bedrooms.

Hand has a contract to buy the 1.45-acre Be-Lo building and parking lots for an undisclosed price. Although Hand does not yet own the property, he has been negotiating with the town to sell it a portion of the property to be turned into a pedestrian mall, and another portion to be used as public parking. Negotiations have so far not been successful.

Hand also is asking the town for several concessions, including a deferral of water and sewer connection fees, a reduced setback requirement, and a blanket parking variance. Hand said he has requested a hearing by the Board of Zoning Appeals, but there are no details on the town website.


Town Council convened a special meeting March 27 to approve Hand’s request for a payment plan and a delay of utility connection fees. Councilman Frank Wendell urged that Council first deal with the parking issue before granting any concessions, but he was not successful. “We tried to negotiate for parking with Hand but have not reached an agreeable price,” he said. “Before we provide any variance or approve any special payment plan, I would like to continue negotiating about parking so that we can accommodate current businesses on Mason Avenue.” Wendell said that he would like “to get back to the negotiating table and hope to satisfy both needs.”

Wendell said that removal of off-street parking in that area of Mason Avenue would adversely affect the Palace Theatre and nearby shops. “When there are events at [the Palace Theatre] it is going to be a long walk for some folks,” he said. He argued that the town should not grant Hand’s requests without receiving parking concessions in return.

Hand agreed that public parking for Mason Avenue was important. “I was already feeling [the need for more parking] as a hotel owner. The town needs the parking,” he said.

Hand warned Council that if the town does not purchase a portion of the property for parking from him now, it might be not available later. “I’m talking to two people about buying a substantial part of the property,” he said.

Hand suggested that Council explore leasing railroad property just south of Mason Avenue for parking, whereupon Wendell urged his fellow council members to talk to Bay Coast railroad official Larry LeMond before approving anything for Hand. “We need to know what they can offer for parking first. We should ask tomorrow,” he said.

But Vice Mayor Chris Bannon argued that “we don’t want to stifle a developer over 40 parking spots,” and accused Wendell of “threatening” Hand’s deal. Wendell replied that he was negotiating for the interests of the town.

Council member Joan Natali also opposed Wendell’s recommendation. “We’re not here to talk about parking. We have to talk about the delay of the [utility] hook-up payment,” she said.

Town code requires payment of utility connection fees when a building permit is issued, unless Town Council authorizes a “payment program.” In that case, town code allows payment to be delayed until water and sewer pipes are actually hooked up. But Hand asked the town to not charge a connection fee until the building had been completed and a certificate of occupancy issued.

That’s the arrangement the town granted to the developer of the old school in Central Park, who plans to convert it into a 17-unit apartment house. Town Council passed an ordinance in December 2012 allowing the developer to delay paying hookup fees until a certificate of occupancy is issued. However, in order to pass an ordinance a public hearing must be held as was done for the old school developer.

Despite Wendell’s protestations, Town Council approved Hand’s request to defer utility connection fees until Certificates of Occupancy are issued, and gave Hand 18 months to complete the first building after closing on the property. All Council members approved the motion except Wendell, who abstained, and Tom Godwin, who was absent. Mayor Dora Sullivan was also absent.

At Wendell’s urging, Council added a requirement that the agreement be reviewed by the town attorney. Calls to Town Manager Heather Arcos requesting the status of the review had not been returned at time of publication.

A survey by the Wave of local and out-of-town Realtors indicates that the Be-Lo property was never advertised for sale. Hand contacted the owners through their attorney, Arthur Lafionatis, and negotiated a purchase contract. Lafionatis told the Wave that town officials had earlier been approached about buying the property, but that the town never made an offer. The property is valued on the county tax rolls at $718,700.

In 2010 Hand repurposed the old McCrory Department Store into Hotel Blue. Earlier this year he sold Hotel Blue to the owners of the adjoining Hotel Cape Charles, who are incorporating Blue into Hotel Cape Charles. Hand also owns the Mack Building, housing Moonrise Jewelry, Drizzles, and Periwinkles, and upstairs apartments. The Mack building is listed for sale for $600,000.



8 Responses to “Big Mason Avenue Project Raises Parking Concerns”

  1. Antonio Sacco on March 31st, 2014 2:15 am

    The Hand proposal is the best idea to hit Cape Charles in a long time, with stores and condos. Good thinking Patrick, this should signal to other developers that Cape Charles is open for business. To the Town Council: don’t blow this one; give Mr. Hand the go-ahead on his project that will be the stimulus for further growth that is so badly needed. And to Patrick Hand, good luck — I hope I live long enough to see the development when it is completed. Excellent idea.

  2. Deborah Bender on March 31st, 2014 8:31 am

    So here we are again — Chris Bannon and Joan Natali are making concessions for a developer against looking out for the people that rely on those parking spaces. Town residents, visitors, and merchants have used that parking for years without thinking about who it belongs to. Frank Wendell recognized that and called repeatedly for the town to secure at least some of the property for town parking.

    And what nonsense would it be for the town to lease railroad property. Then the town has to pay taxes on it just we like did all those years for the seven Bay Creek lots coming into town. All mayoral candidate Frank Wendell is doing is looking out for the best interest of the town. When someone wants something from you, that is when you negotiate for what you want.

    I would like to know how they can push this through without a public hearing?

  3. Kearn Schemm on March 31st, 2014 9:11 am

    Wow, in the near future we will have 17 one-bedroom apartments at the park, with no parking for the public and another 28 apartments on Mason Avenue, with no parking for the public. Who will rent or buy these apartments? Has anyone done a study to see if there is a market for that many new apartments in this little town? We see houses that stay on the market for months and years with no takers. I support redevelopment and applaud Mr. Hand for his willingness to invest in our town, but can’t it be done so that we all benefit? I love pedestrian malls, but does Cape Charles need to buy property in order to make one? Why should the town be forced to rent property for parking at the Palace? Perhaps Hand should negotiate with the railroad for parking; they certainly don’t need all the property.

  4. Anne Hallerman on March 31st, 2014 9:17 am

    Only the Wave could put a negative spin on someone wanting to clean up the eyesore that is the Be-Lo store. I have yet to see a parking crisis in Cape Charles, and I can’t imagine that this will create one. Could you people try really, really hard to consider the positive aspects of change just once?

    In case anyone else missed it, the above story is a news report of last week’s special Town Council meeting, where parking was a prominent topic of discussion. –EDITOR

  5. Dana Lascu on March 31st, 2014 10:49 am

    Very interesting plan – so exciting to get rid of the eyesore and to have a real shopping district in Cape Charles! We then can advertise on Highway 13 “Cape Charles – Historic Downtown and Shopping District” instead of the free public beach and draw more travelers going to and from the Outer Banks beaches.

  6. Thomas D. Giese on March 31st, 2014 1:11 pm

    Thank you Mr. Hand for your willingness to take a chance and risk your money on wonderful Cape Charles. Hope some narrow minded politicians encourage positive development rather than put as many hoops a possible for you to jump through. Who owns this property now — do we use it with or without permission? Could the owner put a chain across the entrance at some future date? What do people mean by “take parking space away? Do the citizens and visitors own the property, do they pay a parking fee, or are we just trespassing? I would like a contest: who can come up with the best reason [Be-Lo] should not be developed. Any positive change to the building will ruin the beautiful portal to the city is my entry to this contest.

    Addendum: We all have backgrounds and life experiences that we bring to bear on issues ranging from our current discussion to the Ukraine invasion. As a retired business professor at the Univ. of Richmond, I can’t help thinking about Econ. 101; the influence of supply and demand on Price. The “price” in this situation is how much must a developer pay to the town and other entities (time, money, fees, permits, board approvals, reviews, approvals, concessions, variances, etc.) to “buy” a development project. If there are 10 or even 2 or 3 who wish to develop this property, the “price” could reflect this demand. At this point in our city’s renewal, to my knowledge, there are not many people willing to invest in this eyesore building. If we were St. Michael, Md., we could demand a much higher price because a lot of people want to invest there. If that property was located in its main street, people would be outbidding each other. I am sure in the future we will be charging St. Michael prices, both for our houses and development, but not yet! Lower the price and encourage sales. There will be no quiz on Friday.

  7. David Kabler on April 1st, 2014 11:24 am

    This project is a perfect example of what is needed to revitalize our Town, and to fulfill the tenant of our Comprehensive Plan, that is to encourage infill development in and around our towns and villages. Go forth and prosper, Mr. Hand!

  8. Wayne Creed on April 2nd, 2014 10:22 am

    Another Epic Fail on the part of the NBBs (Natali-Bannon-Bennett) on Town Council. But it’s not too late, as no deal has been signed, sealed or delivered. The town should immediately go to Philly and make a counter offer on the property and send the developer and his demands packing. We’re already $11 million in debt, what’s another $3/4 million to secure that critical piece of property. It’s only money, right? They’ll print some more tomorrow. Then the town could finally level the poor old Be-Lo (a little bit sad to think about), and save parking and lease a bit for commercial shops (no apartments or condos. See Blue Crab deal.), or just turn it into a park, extending the Strawberry Street corridor. Maybe this is the best place for the Waterman’s Memorial, or as Tony Sacco has been saying for years, a true veterans memorial. Anyone that thinks this is going to produce economic Nirvana probably has fallen for the doltish Tall Ships charade. PT Barnum, we love you!

    If they go forward with this deal, what is the contingency for when the project fails? As it will, due to the current modus operandi of the developer/entrepreneur class (like the cotton fields at the old little league baseball field, you make more by letting it rot on the vine. Also, see Hotel Blue fail). As Professor Giese outlined, these things are basically doomed from the start. Are the taxpaying citizens, especially downtown and around the park, ready to be on the hook for when these projects go south, and some entity like the USDA or even a County/Town partnership (it’s okay to tremble now) steps in to convert so-called lux condos into subsidized housing (for backward thinking towns like this, this space is considered fertile economic soil). I’m glad Professor Giese has deferred the quiz, we need more time. If we took it now, we would certainly fail.